Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Will Blue Dog power decline in the next Congress? (updated)

Many a bad bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with the votes of Republicans and Democratic “Blue Dogs.” These representatives call themselves “moderates” or “centrists,” and you often find them voting with corporate interests, against the majority of the House Democratic caucus, when the chips are down.

This Washington Post article about the upcoming debate over an economic stimulus bill cites Representative Baron Hill of Indiana as “incoming co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of 51 fiscally conservative House Democrats.”

Hill wants the economic stimulus money to go toward road and bridge construction, whereas others would like to see more of the money spent on “green jobs” and infrastructure projects that are more environmentally friendly than building new roads. Progressives would like to spend the transportation money on fixing our existing roads and bridges while expanding public transit and rail.

Friends of the Earth has launched a campaign to “keep the economic stimulus clean”:

Transportation in the U.S. is responsible for 30 percent of our global warming pollution and 70 percent of our oil consumption. We cannot solve the energy and climate challenge without making our transportation system far cleaner and more efficient.

President-elect Obama and the congressional leadership are moving quickly to pass an economic stimulus package that creates green jobs with a new, clean energy infrastructure. Public transportation, smart growth and green transportation alternatives are a crucial part of this effort.

Unfortunately, the road-building lobby is attempting to hijack this bill and divert billions of dollars to the construction of new, unnecessary roads, highways and bridges that would deepen our nation’s dependence on oil and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Click here for more details about the economic and environmental consequences of letting new road construction dominate the stimulus bill.

Getting back to the title of this diary, Matt Stoller read that Washington Post piece about debates over the stimulus and was intrigued to learn that Hill claims 51 members for the Blue Dog Coalition:

Last session, there were 49 Blue Dogs, and during the election season the caucus continually bragged about how they would add a substantial number of new members in 2009.  Still, their PAC didn’t give to very many Democratic candidates, two Blue Dogs lost reelection, and a bunch of their candidate prospects lost.  If it’s true that the Blue Dogs have only increased their number by 2, and I’m not sure it is, then they really are far weaker in the House than they were from 2006-2008.  There are 257 Democrats in the next Congress and 178 Republicans.  While the Blue Dogs are still a swing bloc, they only have 11 votes to give.  That’s not very many, considering that this number assumes all Republicans always vote with the Blue Dogs.  If Republicans split off from their caucus on certain votes, even small numbers of Republicans, then Blue Dog priorities are far less likely to matter overall.

Leonard Boswell (IA-03) is the only Iowa Democrat in the Blue Dog group. Once the new House convenes, it will be interesting to see how the Blue Dogs compare in number to the Progressive Caucus, which had 71 members in the last Congress, including Dave Loebsack (IA-02). My hunch is that the Progressive Caucus will add a lot more new members than the Blue Dogs.

After the new year I’ll try to find out how many members Bruce Braley (IA-01) was able to recruit to the Populist Caucus he is forming.

Whether or not Blue Dog power declines in the House, it may be on the rise in the Senate. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is setting up a Blue Dog caucus in the upper chamber. Although Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s spokesman claims Reid is “upbeat” about Bayh’s plans, it’s likely that the Senate Blue Dogs will collude with Republicans to obstruct Barack Obama’s agenda.

Matthew Yglesias advanced a very plausible hypothesis about Bayh’s move:

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can’t really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there’s no reason it couldn’t work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.

Let’s hope the memory of the 1994 Republican landslide will induce conservative Democrats not to block most of Obama’s agenda. The Democrats who ran Congress in 1993 and 1994 wanted to show Bill Clinton who was boss, but the effect was to make Democrats look incompetent, depressing Democratic base turnout in 1994 and turning swing voters toward the Republicans.

On the other hand, I would not underestimate the Blue Dogs’ willingness to do what big money wants, whether or not it’s good for the Democratic Party.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: Kagro X notes that the Progressive Caucus seems to be a more cohesive voting bloc than the Blue Dogs, which is surprising.

Meanwhile, Chris Bowers argues persuasively than the Blue Dogs have achieved little on their alleged signature issue of “fiscal responsibility”:

If the Blue Dogs only exist in order to promote “fiscal responsibility,” isn’t it pretty clear that, rather than getting their way, they have actually failed across the board over the last eight years? From the Bush tax cuts, to soaring deficits, to making exceptions for war, to making exceptions for bailouts, to making exceptions to stimulus packages, the Blue Dogs have completely and utterly failed at their stated primary policy area and done so at every available opportunity.

The only actual successes of the Blue Dogs appear to be the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] re-write and blank check funding for Iraq. It is notable that 38 of the 47 Blue Dogs voted in favor of both these measures, which jointly render a member a “Bush Dog” in Open Left’s terminology. Given that 70 House members voted in favor of both those measures, the Democratic defectors on those issues were clearly spearheaded by the Blue Dogs.

Mainly, I am impressed that Blue Dogs keep earning press that describes them as fiscally responsible and wildly powerful, when the record shows otherwise. When offered opportunities to actually clamp down on spending over the last two years, the Blue Dogs have balked at every turn, favoring blank check funding for Iraq, blank check funding for the bailout, and massive funding for the economic stimulus. That a group of House members can do all of this and still be described as both “fiscally responsible” and “powerful” is pretty impressive. Maybe what we progressives really need is to hire the Blue Dogs’ PR people.

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Last chance to show off your VP prediction skills

Most people seem to think Obama’s short list is Biden, Bayh and Kaine, but there’s a lot of late buzz about him surprising us all, perhaps with Hillary.

What do you think? I don’t think he will choose Hillary, because his people stupidly made a big point of saying earlier this summer that he didn’t want her on the ticket. If he chooses her now, it looks like he is acknowledging he can’t win without her, and I don’t think he wants to show weakness.

She would be a good choice, though. The right-wing hate machine has been doing a good job of rallying Republicans around McCain. The argument that choosing Hillary would galvanize conservatives against Obama no longer holds water.

UPDATE: Politico says Hillary was never vetted and Congressman Chet Edwards of Texas is on Obama’s short list. Please don’t let Obama be dumb enough to pick him. If he wants a conservative Democrat, it should at least be someone who puts a state in play. Also, Chet Edwards is not seasoned as a communicator on the national stage.

SECOND UPDATE: A friend of a friend of a source of Matt Stoller says Biden’s family is making plans to be in Springfield this Saturday:

http://www.openleft.com/showDi…

THIRD UPDATE: Marc Ambinder picks up on a chartered flight from Chicago’s Midway airport to New Castle, Delaware…possibly going to pick up Biden’s family?

http://marcambinder.theatlanti…

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Obama doesn't want Wes Clark in Denver

Ragbrai08 pointed me to this post by Steve Clemons, who reports that Wes Clark will not attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver:

Clark was informed by Barack Obama’s people that there was no reason to come.

General Clark has been given no role of any kind at the convention.

Rubbing salt in the wound even more, the “theme” of Wednesday’s Democratic convention agenda is “Securing America.”

Wesley Clark’s PAC also happens to be called SECURING AMERICA.

I have to agree with Paul Rosenberg, who once noted at Open Left that incompetence is not using your strongest surrogate, and idiocy is not using your strongest surrogate in your weakest suit.

Unfortunately, distancing the Obama campaign from Clark will not just reduce Clark’s influence. It will also embolden the right-wing noise machine. If they manage to get the punditocracy to throw a big, unjustified hissy fit, Obama will run scared. Expect further efforts to discredit strong Democratic voices during the general election campaign and next year if Obama beats McCain.

So, definitely cross Clark off the VP list. Senators Joe Biden and Evan Bayh will speak in Denver on Wednesday night of convention week, fueling speculation that one of them will be Obama’s running mate.

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Another VP speculation thread

Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet says Delaware Senator Joe Biden is moving up on Barack Obama’s short list:

While Obama’s heart may go towards Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine–his head takes him to a more experienced pick, a Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) or Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Although Biden voted for the bankruptcy bill and was a vocal supporter of Bush’s Iraq War for a long time, his lifetime Senate voting record is much more progressive than Bayh’s. It’s not even close.

Also, Biden is a better speaker and campaigner than Bayh and would be a great attack dog.

Also, we wouldn’t lose a Senate seat if Biden became vice president.

Wesley Clark would be my first choice for VP, but if Obama wants to go with a DC establishment figure, Biden would be an excellent choice. He would do no harm to the ticket and would help Obama with over-60 voters, in my opinion.

Steve Clemons says sources indicate Bayh has a better than 50/50 chance of being chosen by Obama.

Paul Rosenberg reports that a new “100,000 Strong Against Evan Bayh for VP” group on Facebook got more than 1,300 people to sign up on the first day. Early Thursday morning, they were almost at 2,000 members.

Choosing Kaine would be a big mistake, in my opinion. The Virginia community blog for Democrats, Raising Kaine, did a ton to help Kaine get elected, but the writers there are appalled by the way he has governed. Also, it would be too easy for the Republicans to peg an Obama/Kaine ticket as inexperienced.

Then again, Philip Martin of the Texas blog Burnt Orange Report watched a video of Kaine speaking in Texas and had this to say:

I started watching this video not liking Kaine. I already didn’t like him because he (and his staff) were surprisingly and unnecessarily pushy backstage at the TDP convention (where I was volunteering). After reading about his policies, I liked him even less. Suffice to say, I’m really, really unexcited about any prospects of him as Vice President.

But if the only measuring stick is, “how good of a stump candidate for Vice President” would Kaine be, I’d have to say excellent. He can speak in Spanish, delivers red-meat to the base without becoming too partisan or overshadowing Obama, and can honestly tell a real-life story of flipping conservative states red-to-blue.

He’s one of the worst choices for anyone who cares about policy, but is a damn good choice for anyone who only cares about politics.

Over at Raising Kaine, TheGreenMiles quotes Karl Rove to preview “the lines of attack the GOP would use if Kaine were the choice.” Hint: they’d say he was chosen for purely political reasons and lacks sufficient experience.

The New Republic’s Eve Fairbanks thinks Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is “much more impressive” than Kaine.

Use this thread to discuss whom Obama should pick as a running mate and why.

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